Ababiy: Don’t freeze tuition, lower it

Covid-19 has changed everything—work, school, social life—except for the cost of tuition

Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Jonathan Ababiy

A lot has changed since COVID-19. Schools are closed, work and school have shifted online, and millions have lost their jobs. 

But one thing hasn’t changed: the price University of Minnesota undergraduate students will pay next fall for tuition. The Board of Regents gave undergraduate students a tuition freeze, but that’s all. 

That needs to change. Students are stuck paying the same tuition for an educational experience that will take place mostly on Zoom. The cost of tuition is already a burden for many students, so it’s unfair and unjust for students to pay their whole lives for what is going to be little more than a stop-gap semester. 

The ability to pay for tuition has been stripped away from both parents and students. As of May, the country had lost 20.6 million jobs since March, for an unemployment rate of 14.7%, a level unmatched since the Great Recession. Things have slightly improved since then, with unemployment ticking down to 11.6% in June, but that is still an unemployment higher than any  seen in nearly two decades.

The economic downturn has been particularly concentrated for students.  Summer internships are how many students pay for rent and expenses during the school year, when they work less or don’t work at all. A College Reaction/Axis poll found that 38% of college students who said they had secured an internship had the internship canceled. For students who didn’t have an internship, getting one became impossible. 

In a kind of final nail in the coffin, many students were not eligible for $1,200 stimulus payments available through the CARES Act. If students were listed as a dependent on their parents’ taxes, they were ineligible. Later, my parents and I amended our taxes to remove my dependent status, something I should have done much earlier, because I am financially independent. Months later, I have still not received a check. (But plenty of deceased people have.)

There was something that briefly helped students out: the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. The bonus benefits pretty much propped up the economy, nearly 5% of incomes in June. Now, those benefits are on pause and their future is uncertain, as Democrats and Republicans negotiate the size of the next iteration of benefits. Republicans want only $200 a week in benefits, barely enough to cover monthly rent for a single room in Dinkytown. 

Given the economic carnage, it’s time that the University recognize that this coming semester won’t be like other semesters. So, let’s not ask tuition prices that are like other semesters.